This month's Scientific American has a long article on the Constellation Program, NASA's multi-billion dollar plan for putting a human presence on the Moon and for longer periods of time than the Apollo program achieved. The new vehicle being developed is called the Orion and will replace the Space Shuttle, which is scheduled for retirement in 2010. The U.S. Moon base will also support a future mission to Mars, which has long been in the human imagination.
The Russians have also announced that they will travel to the Moon. So have the Chinese.
And you had to bury your head under the covers to not hear about the X-Prize and Google's challenge, the Google Lunar X-Prize. This contest requires competitors "to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to the Earth." The prize itself is $30 million.
Joseph Campbell would think that all of this Lunar Madness is about time.... The image of the Earth seen by astronauts, the famous Earthrise photographs provided Campbell the idea that this view of the home planet would signify a new spiritual awareness. From Thou Art That:
"The reality of living in space means that we are born anew, not born again to an old-time religion but to a new order of things. There are no horizons -- that is the meaning of the Space Age. We are in a free fall into a future that is mysterious. It is very fluid and this is disconcerting to many people. All you have to do is know how to use a parachute" (105). For Campbell, the moon missions obliterated the divided model of Heaven and Earth. The division had been artificial. "Almost fifteen years ago we had the great symbol of change that has taken place. Men stood on the moon and looked back and by television we were able to look back with them -- to see earthrise. That is the symbol that enabled us to feel the truth of the discovery that Copernicus made four and a quarter centuries ago" (105).